Abstract

The Austral archipelago, on the western side of the South Pacific superswell, is composed of several volcanic chains, corresponding to distinct events from 35 Ma to the present, and lies on oceanic crust created between 60 and 85 Ma. In 1982, Turner and Jarrard proposed that the two distinct volcanic stages found on Rurutu Island and dated as 12 Ma and 1 Ma could be due to two different hotspots, but no evidence of any recent aerial or submarine volcanic source has ever been found. In July 1999, expedition ZEPOLYF2 aboard the R/V L'Atalante conducted a geophysical survey of the northern part of the Austral volcanic archipelago. Thirty seamounts were mapped for the first time, including a very shallow one (<27 m below sea level), located at lat 23°26.4′S, long 150°43.8′W, ∼120 km southeast of Rurutu. A nepheline-rich scoriaceous basalt sample from pillow lavas dredged on the newly mapped seamount's western flank gave a K-Ar age of 230 ± 0.004 ka obtained on pure selected nepheline. We propose that this seamount, already called Arago Seamount after a French Navy ship that discovered its summit in 1993, is the missing hotspot in the Cook-Austral history. This interpretation adds a new hotspot to the already complicated geologic history of this region. We suggest that several hotspots have been active simultaneously on a region of the seafloor that does not exceed 2000 km in diameter and that each of them had a short lifetime (<20 m.y.). These short-lived and closely spaced hotspots cannot be the result of discrete deep-mantle plumes and are likely due to more local upwelling in the upper mantle strongly influenced by weaknesses in the lithosphere.

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